Jose Mari Velez was not yet 30 when he was elected to represent the 1st district of Rizal in the 1971 Constitutional Convention, where most of the delegates were seasoned politicians and prominent professionals. As a delegate, he proved himself to be an uncompromising defender of constitutional democracy. He opposed the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by Marcos and the establishment of political dynasties in the country.
His sense of what was good or bad for the nation was probably sharpened by the years he spent as a broadcast journalist. In 1966, he broke into Philippine television when he was chosen to be the sole anchor for the news program “The Big News.” Nightly he delivered information that was credible, committed to the truth, and professionally presented, earning a series of awards for the program. He also hosted a talk show, interviewing personalities about the hot issues of the day.
Velez began his career in mass media as a disk jockey in radio station DZHP, while he was still studying for a political science degree at the University of the Philippines. It was a “graveyard shift,” from 12 midnight to 5 am, but he needed to support himself and his young family. After graduation, he went on to study law, which he finished in 1970.
When martial law was declared in September 1972, Velez was ordered arrested along with several other delegates to the Constitutional Convention. He and journalist Napoleon Rama, also a detained Con-Con delegate, were allowed to vote on the “ersatz Marcos Constitution,” as Velez called it. A “yes” vote would have meant release from detention and membership in the martial law legislative assembly. With “every fiber in (his) body,” he voted “no.”
By early 1973, Velez was released from detention but instead placed under house arrest for another two years. After this, no one wanted to employ him for fear of the Marcos regime. He himself vowed never to return to broadcasting until the dictator was ousted from power.
In the meantime, he reviewed for the bar, which he passed, and pursued a master’s degree in economics, after which a friend asked him to work in one of his business firms. After that he became vice-president of Associated Bank.
But Velez continued to be active in the opposition to the regime. He helped found and chaired SELDA, an organization of former political detainees. He refused to accept the Marcos Constitution and assailed the corruption of the dictatorship. He called for a boycott of the 1984 elections and joined the opposition party, Laban, in the 1986 snap presidential elections.
In February 1986, Velez was among the first to go on air, announcing the ﬂight of Marcos and his family from the country. The “country’s number one TV newscaster” was at last free to return to broadcast journalism. His first post-Marcos stint in mass media was on Channel 7 with Tina Monzon Palma. President Corazon Aquino also appointed him director of the Development Bank of the Philippines.
It was Velez and American lawyer Robert Swift who together filed the first class suit against Marcos before a court in Hawaii, USA, He was lead plaintiff in the case of thousands of victims whose human rights were violated under the dictatorial regime.
In 1989, Velez became the first awardee for service by a journalist given by the Ninoy Aquino Fellowships for Professional Development. In presenting this award, the then US Ambassador to the Philippines Nicholas Platt read the following: “It is most appropriate that this honor should go to a man who was imprisoned with Ninoy when freedom of the press was under the harshest attack in the Philippines.”
He died of lung cancer at a hospital in New York City in 1991, at the age of 50.
PARENTS Fernando Velez and Juana Uhler
SPOUSE Marilu Syjuco / 4
EDUCATION Elementary: Ateneo de Manila
Secondary: University of Santo Tomas
College: University of the Philippines Diliman; Center for Research and Communication,